Silence of the Fans

Students and staff at Ipswich High School have been on different sides of a common battle this year at Ipswich sports games. The tension has been building up over the past few years around what a large portion of Ipswich students believe is an over censorship at Ipswich sports games. The Ipswich High School Athletic Department understandably believe deeply in sportsmanship, but have they gone too far on restricting student activity at sports games?

Ipswich High School students have had their free speech rights reduced in what they are allowed to say at sports games. This 2018-19 basketball season took a deep dive into the tension between students and staff. The school has gone as far as suspending students from games and not letting them come to Ipswich sporting events. Even though some of the suspensions were valid, most of them were considered controversial.

Ipswich High School has created a set of “Tiger Den rules.” These rules are summed up as no taunting other players, coaches or officials, no noisemakers, or offensive remarks or language towards the opposing players, coaches, and officials. The staff won’t allow students to sit in the first row or stand on the floor. Many students have become frustrated with the tight supervision of the Tiger Den, and many people feel that it is affecting the game in a negative way for the Ipswich Tigers.

One Ipswich High School student, Erik Anderson, who is a large supporter of Ipswich Basketball, was suspended from attending Ipswich Basketball home games for several reasons that many people consider to be controversial.  Anderson was suspended from the remaining home basketball games for violating the Tiger Den rules. Anderson was spoken to a few times before his suspension, but those reasons for being spoken to might not be considered reasonable. Erik was kicked out of the first home game for “going over the line towards players and officials.” Anderson explained that during the game he was “chirping” the opposing teams players. He recalls saying, “Hey number 5 you’re 0-for-6 keep shooting.” Anderson defended himself, “ I don’t think it was considered malicious or against the MIAA student hand book, which I have looked at.” He is not alone on this fight. Many students here at Ipswich High School believe that he was saying nothing wrong compared to other schools who will say much worse things.

Anderson’s second incident happened during the Hamilton game at Ipswich. Anderson explained that, “I was warned not to say anything about football [referring to the Tigers 36-0 football victory on Thanksgiving]. So during the game I really didn’t say much and with about 10 seconds left Hamilton was shooting free throws and I yelled the word ‘something.’ I was temporarily banned from Ipswich High School home games.” Anderson’s comments and actions at Ipswich sports games don’t show the worst side of sports fans across the Cape Ann League and is only one example of students who have been silenced by our school.

Here at Ipswich High School there have been times when students have gone too far, which Anderson agrees with, but there needs to be a compromise on how the school can police students during sports games. Anderson spoke his mind saying, “I honestly think that they should give the students a little bit more freedom but give them fairground rules on what they can and can’t do. If they don’t follow those rules, they should be kicked out, but overall I think they really need to relax their policy on student activity during athletics.” Jacob Eliopoulos, an Ipswich senior basketball player, added to the discussion, “I think that schools have the right to censor to a point, but if there is really nothing happening then they are just going too far.”

Compared to other towns in the Cape Ann League, Ipswich fans are not that bad. Both Ipswich and the towns around us need to figure out a baseline of censorship that we should put on our students during sports games. Jacob has seen his fair share on how the students at other schools are acting during games, saying that, “This basketball season, I know that some of the student sections have been really rowdy and it’s not even that bad; its just that their AD and teachers don’t do anything about it, whereas at our school, it is so censored that the fans can’t say anything towards any players or anything bad at all.”

Fans can play a major impact on the game, hence why home court advantage is beneficial. . Jacob, who is taking A.P. Psychology, says that, “In a game psychology can play a huge role on players, for example something simple as another fan saying your name while you are trying to play well can make it tough. The whole point of having the home court is to be able to do this, not as much as other schools do, but when our teachers take it away it affects the way that we play because the crowd doesn’t play a part.” Both the school and students can debate on which is the proper way to watch a sports game and support your team but censoring our fans and students doesn’t help the environment to win.  

Students here at Ipswich High School feel that the censorship of their speech at Ipswich home games has gone over the line and there needs to be a change. We should have good sportsmanship throughout our school, sports teams, and community but bringing censorship to a level of not letting fans speak is taking it too far. The students here at Ipswich want the school to reevaluate the reasoning behind suspensions and censorship. We need to compromise and set up a safe and fun environment that not only lets the fans enjoy the game but also helps the student-athletes win, an environment where students aren’t censored on speech and given the opportunity to prove responsibility.